There was … the nearest approach to a frown I ever saw on his face one Sunday morning when, the study windows being open, there suddenly came a hideous cacophony from an adjacent house — the noise of a strepitant piano ill-treated by some invisible player of a hymn-tune. Oddly enough, we had been talking of music, and Browning had been chatting with unusual freeness about his early studies, under Cipriani Potter and ‘old John Relfe’, as he affectionately called that well-known teacher of early Victorian students.1 ‘I was passionately fond of music as a child,’ he said, ‘and if you had told me in those days that I should be anything but a great composer I should have been horribly annoyed. Oh yes, I went in for the piano, and singing, and the ‘cello too. And I went all through the mill of harmony and counterpoint, and the rest. Did I try my hand at composition? Yes, but not very much. No, nothing was ever kept, as far as I remember — and hope. Oh, except one trivial thing — the little barcarole that I wrote for the two children to sing in the last act of “Strafford”. It goes like this’ — and he broke off to hum it for me.2


  1. Sidney, a poet, knew Browning in his last years. Browning’s musical knowledge is often referred to; according to Sir James Paget ‘He had a powerful knowledge of old Italian music; and so great veneration for Bach, that he once recommended Bach’s Crucifixus — et sepultus — et resurrexit, as a cure for want of belief’ (Memoirs and Letters of Sir James Paget, ed. Stephen Paget (London, 1901), p. 404).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Robert Sidney

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